Slow opening of the dark
Forging a hesitant connection
Soft, never clarified gestures
Thinking of who is gone, the difficulty of being-with
What is it to be touched as someone vital,
if only parts of us are touching parts of others?
Does tangency admitted degrees, does opacity?
Pain is the result of not being first for someone else
It’s not, I long for you, it’s you bereave me
It’s not, I miss you, it’s you are missing from me
I had to remind myself, my world is worth returning to
That nothing that is complete still breathes
“but to live, was it not necessary to receive another’s, an other, heart?”*
Do we have inside ourselves what we need to stay alive? What are the needs, and the limits, of the heart?
My life-work is about the body, about what it means to afford intimacy in the hold of the other, yet have I ever, in real terms, afforded intimacy? And have I ever, sincerely, been in my own body? My contact with my body has been severed long ago, the grave cost of living a life of the mind.
At twenty-seven, just over one year after returning to live in Israel, I attended my first tango lesson. The music of tango is so close to me as if I had been dancing my entire life. I grew up on Piazzolla and Ginastera, replicating the sensuality of the dance on piano and cello. But self-disclosure to an instrument is still an unfulfilling endeavor for a pained inner life that is unexpressed physically.
I have spent my intellectual life longing for intimacy, a longing I express through poetry and philosophy. The vocabulary for intimacy is rich, but have I ever allowed myself to be held? It is a truism that language impoverishes lived experience. When I came to tango, a single touch echoed in me tenfold.
Before touch, there is, first of all, the encounter with yourself, with your body, through the prism of unfolding mirrors and the eyes of others. Then, there is the other. Tango is about the other. Tango (from tangere, to touch) is the work of walking with your partner to music. A story told by bodies with music. Need I point out the identification with life? One of life’s earnest difficulties may be described as trying to walk with another. Or finding another—finding the right person with whom to walk. One walks in tango as one walks in life. The curve of the body paints the curve of life. Lines of connection, invisible threads gently tethering us together.
What does it take to be with one another, to endure the difficult “being-with”? Choosing and being chosen are critical elements of the dance. But not every love can be returned. Some will leave you behind.
This is not intellectual. The work of tango is raw. A feeling from the heart extending up through the shoulder and down into the arm toward the chest of the other. Time leaves its mark in the embrace. The paradox of life—that it is fragile and long, devastating and beautiful, subtle and stark—is apparent in the embrace. The embrace is, for the few minutes it lasts, the stasis in which we live with one another.
The preposition with is to be understood existentially: an awareness of the space between us and the difficulties this awareness brings. There is a physical complication involved in being together. In the existential situation of meeting, what hurts me in being-with also propels me and keeps me alive. It is a having-been-offered without any holding back, “a tenuous thread—from pain to pain, strangeness to strangeness.”[ii] We are forever at cross purposes, irreconcilable, yet what intervenes in me, my heart, is what is most intensely my meaning in life.
There is an overwhelming contact with life called pathos, pain. In a close embrace, we face the part of human existence which suffers. With the other, we bear this pain. It could be said, we bear the pain of the other. The struggle is the place where we discover the feeling of love, “the extremely difficult realization,” as Iris Murdoch would say, “that something other than oneself is real.”[iii]
In tango, a confrontation with the other is immediate, yet the discovery is gradual. There is a very real problem of sense, of smell, of weight. Each body has its own rhythm, its history; each body moves differently. What does it mean to touch someone you don’t know and actually reach their heart? To go with them in their suffering? In order to move together, one person must slow down, or another speed up. Both must change ontologically, support each other in their irreducible singularity; they must sustain and remain there where it is difficult. Both must hear the music of the other.
Absolutist that I am, I did not want to share a dance with anyone whose heart I could not touch, anyone who would throw me when the dance had ended. For, to leave what holds you, to forsake the other, is to deny what moves you to life. Paradoxically, I learned this: at the same time that one must demonstrate extreme, unreasonable devotion, one must also exercise departure. And one must prepare oneself to be let go of.
At my first milonga, one of my partners suggested, “Close your eyes.”
I will admit to my selectivity in being held, my selectivity in “closing my eyes” with just about anyone. I will admit to the extent to which my selectivity verges on arrogance, on an experience of misrecognition, which has dominated my life.
So much is withheld. In the inner sensorium of the embrace, one asks by saying nothing at all. Yet, in one glance, there is a demand for recognition with all the being. Across us, and between, we must have enough of a difference, a seam for a movement to occur. Tango demands a genuine sensitivity within, a surrender, yet a rigor of composure without. It reveals our relation to the unknown. It demands a rigorous relationship with darkness. Is there a substantial difference between openness, longing, patience, and waiting? What does it mean to feel the unknown, to bear desire, to hold out for something special?
You do by being undone, by saying nothing with your mouth and everything, subtly, with your body. My body, shackled for so long, had to be reminded how to breathe and to receive.
My partner took my hand and drew my body up to his, chest to chest. I felt this to be a premature infringement. “Trust me,” as we began to move, softly, hesitantly with a constant gentle pressure upon one another. What is it to yield? Aliveness to the space between us forces us to rest in, to have a dialogue with, the unknown. Falling open, struggling openly, leading with the soul. There is a dignity in the way of holding, a formal reserve, as you fasten to the other. Joining force and tenderness, as if something is touched from within. Sometimes it is.
Is the intimacy real or is it just a performance? How can something felt in the nerve endings be just that, a dance?
At the milonga, I wondered, what does it mean to share a dance with many people, a dance that has an end? How can something end and still have been true?
Betrayal and a desire for truth have lingered with me since childhood. I found it painful to share touch with partners who would go on to touch many more after me, but to reach completion with none.
In tango, there is no genuine solo; there is always a duet. But what makes a duet? I have taken enough lessons to experience what feels like deep loneliness with so many partners, what feels like two solos deaf to one another…
Over time, there is the lingering question: what does it mean for something to last beyond the time, in which it was orchestrated to happen, to last beyond the hour it was paid for? What does it mean to be found by an other who will go the distance, the person with whom the dance will never end? Or, simply, to be in a human relation that is not transactional? Over time, there is the realization that there will be very few, perhaps only one.
Can an embrace be neutral? What, I mean, is the dividing line between dance and life, the professional and the personal?
Are you enough for yourself? The poverty of independence; the privilege of dependence.
*This previously unpublished poem is my own. The last phrase owes its inspiration to Jean-Luc Nancy, in whose “L’Intrus” the sentiment is forcefully expressed. Nancy, Jean-Luc, and Susan Hanson. “L’Intrus.” CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 2, no. 3, 2002, p. 2. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41949352. Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.
[i] See Gobello, Jose and Bossio, Jorge Alberto (1993). Tangos, letras y letristas 3:34.
[ii] Nancy, “L’Intrus,” p. 12.
[iii] Murdoch, Iris. “The Sublime and the Good.” Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Penguin. 1997, p. 215.